Black coffee people
Ditching gluttony for gratitude
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I was flying out of Houston Hobby Airport recently and had time to stop at Peet’s Coffee for a midmorning re-caf. As I inched forward in line, customers ahead of me placed a string of labyrinthine drink orders and baristas echoed them back:
“Iced double dirty chai latte half-decaf with oat milk and extra foam!”
“Short nonfat, no-foam three-pump salted caramel cappuccino!”
The woman in line just in front of me—pretty, chic, Asian—was just the type you’d expect to be up on the latest snapchilled, Koji-fermented, brown-sugar-jelly coffee trends and order accordingly. Instead, she glided elegantly into ordering position and purred, “Just a large, black coffee please.”
My ears perked up. Something in the just.
Did I detect a subtext of disdain? Was Black Coffee Babe fed up with the frippery of ridiculous coffee orders—of people around the world spending all those words, all that time, all that money on what used to be a humble cuppa Joe? Or maybe she was indulging in a little hipster humility: “See how low-maintenance I am? A natural flower among all you hothouse snobs.”
The truth is, she probably just likes black coffee. But I would like to think otherwise, since I am much more like Oat Milk Chai Girl than Black Coffee Babe. My longtime friends will tell you I used to show up to order my Starbucks bearing a lab beaker, a depth gauge, and a doula.
The 1991 Steve Martin comedy L.A. Story anticipated our dainty era. Remember the “coffee scene,” now a YouTube classic?
Tom: I’ll have a decaf coffee.
Trudi: I’ll have a decaf espresso.
Morris: I’ll have a double decaf cappuccino.
Ted: Do you have decaffeinated coffee ice cream?
Harris: I’ll have a half double-decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.
Not to be one-upped, everyone at the table promptly adds a lemon twist to their orders.
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis skewers our modern insistence that everything be just so. His title tempter tutors his pupil, young Wormwood, on a new form of gluttony. Screwtape uses as an example the mother of Wormwood’s “patient,” the young Christian he’s trying to derail.
The mother “is a positive terror to hostesses and servants,” Screwtape explains. “She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile ‘Oh please, please … all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.’ You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others.”
Screwtape brags to Wormwood that hardly anyone talks or preaches about the “gluttony of Excess” anymore because the Underworld has worked hard to encourage instead the “gluttony of Delicacy.”
Sadly, today’s technology encourages exactly that. Most of us can get exactly what we want exactly when we want it, using only our thumbs. But as Jamie Dean writes in our cover story, that’s not true of everyone. Hidden beneath the electron-enabled, high-speed commerce that makes most of our lives easier are millions of elderly people whose lives are growing harder. The awful arithmetic of inflation and fixed incomes, plus social isolation and spiraling “gray divorce,” is increasing food—and relational—insecurity among seniors.
“Gray hair is a crown of glory,” King Solomon wrote. I’m grateful for ministries that serve these precious ones, whose struggles tear at the heart. And I’m happy to report that I’m way less picky than I used to be. These days, when I visit Starbucks, I bring only my wallet. Well … and the doula.
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